Schell, Language Arts
How much time do you
spend on the myths unit and its different components?
The myths unit takes about six weeks in all. I see this class
90 minutes a day, and every day we would do some kind of activity
related to a myth and Greek word stems. At the beginning of
the unit I give the students the puppet-making rubric. We
go to the computer lab to look up on-line puppet-making resources.
They have two weeks to make the puppet at home. (I stressed
using recycled materials - you don't have to go out and buy
things.) After school during those two weeks I host a puppet-making
workshop. It lasts an hour and anyone can come; students feed
off each other's ideas.
The scriptwriting can take three or four days.
I spend another day on how you breathe life into the puppet,
and then rehearsing can take three or four days. The performing
and videotaping takes another two days. Finally, we watch
what we've done, and critique it using the PPQ (praise, polish
and a question) technique.
How would you describe the academic level
of the students in your class?
This was an AAP (academically gifted) class,
but I did the same unit with a regular class, where skill
levels run the gamut. I didn't have that class make the puppets
at home because I was concerned about access to resources.
So we had everyone bring in a pillowcase and we animated that,
using techniques that Jennifer Larson, the theatre teacher,
taught us. That class still wrote and performed plays, and
did a great job. The scripts were fantastic. But those kids
were disappointed not to make puppets and the plays were harder
to understand because there were fewer visual cues using the
animated pillowcases - so next year everyone will do puppets.
What language arts and social studies criteria
did the scriptwriting address?
For language arts, I have a rubric that addresses
the fine details of writing that we’ve been covering,
including narrative components like a clear beginning, middle,
and end; characterization; and the details that reveal character,
like a hand gesture or a yawn, or a particular way that clothing
is warn. And kids know by this stage to be working with their
five senses in their writing, so we should see adverbs and
adjectives at this stage of the game.
The scripts have to meet social studies goals
as well as C the students have to mention three places or
activities from ancient Greece, like the Olympics, going to
the agora (marketplace), lion fights at the Coliseum. So the
students get a grade from the social studies teacher as well.
What challenges did you face
with this unit? How will you approach it differently the next
time you do it?
In the future, I'll only do hand and rod puppets
- no more marionettes or shadow puppets, because those require
different types of stages, and that was difficult. And this
year I'm going to work with a puppetry theatre group here
in Columbia, and we may do a field trip to watch a professional
marionette performance there.
I'd like to invite other classes in when we
perform, and also air one or two of the plays on the school's
in-house morning television program. We've done that before
and it's been successful.
How do you make time to plan and teach with
the classroom teachers who want to work with you?
My planning with teachers starts in the summer
before school begins, during teacher planning days. I make
a point of putting a note in teachers’ boxes that I
am available and would love to work together on a variety
of levels. I include ideas and projects that have worked in
I also make a short speech at the first faculty
meeting. I let all teachers know that I would love to do some
cross-curriculum planning with them. I tell them there is
a script out there addressing almost every topic, and if it
does not exist, we can produce an original script with the
After this, most of the planning occurs unit-to-unit,
lesson-to-lesson. You just have to make the time, love to
share your art, and know that some positive energy always
How do you engage non-drama students
when you visit other classrooms?
excitement, energy, and enthusiasm! When I was asked to kick
off a language arts unit on Julius
Caesar at the local high school, I walked in with a
soothsayer costume on and some eerie background music. The
teacher turned off the lights and I lit a candle and gathered
the students close to me on the floor to tell them the story
of the play. Really, all I did was explain the plot, using
character acting. But at the end when I continued to yell
“Beware the Ides of March!” over and over again
and then blew out the candle and stood up, students were hanging
on every word. I had not mentioned Shakespeare, acting, or
any factual history. A little bit of theatre will go a long
way to engaging non-drama students.
In the program, we see Helen’s class
doing a PPQ critique. What are some of the critiquing methods
that you use in your own classroom?
I use a similar oral
and written critique method called “Two Stars and A
Wish.” Generally, I ask students to find two positive
things about every performance and then one piece of constructive